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Wellness care falls short
The message isn't new-pets are still missing basic care. This updated data shows how the issue affects your bottom line.
OUT OF EVERY $1 MILLION IN potential wellness revenue, you and your colleagues are collecting only $160,000. That's 16 percent, according to data from Veterinary Metrics, an Atlanta-based consulting company, which calls this number the gap analysis. It's another finding to add to the mound of data that points to missing wellness care for pets.
The company looks at core wellness services and products, including the exam, heartworm testing and preventives, intestinal parasite testing, flea and tick preventives, wellness diagnostics for adults and seniors, dental prophys, and nutrition. Then it looks at the annual fees and multiplies them by the number of dogs and cats to quantify the revenue potential. In 2005, the company tracked 250 practices.
If you weren't alarmed by this 16 percent, consider this fact: The 2005 number is down. In 2003, when the company gathered data from 60 practices nationwide, it found a gap analysis of 17 percent.
And those numbers are tallied only for clients that generated an invoice in the last 12 months. So we can't attribute the shortfall to inactive clients who should be purged from the list.
Pinpointing the gaps
If you look at the wellness exam, which could be considered the centerpiece of a wellness program, Veterinary Metrics data shows that less than half of pets are receiving one—42 percent of dogs and 36 percent of cats. And that number's down slightly from 2003, when 45 percent of dogs and 37 percent of cats received wellness exams.
Of course, clients bring their pets in for more than just wellness exams, which helps explain why data from the 2005/2006 American Pet Products Manufacturers Association National Pet Owners Survey shows the average number of veterinary visits for dogs in a 12-month period was 2.8 in 2004 and 2.3 for cats.
Complementary data from The Feline Study conducted by BNResearch on behalf of Banfield, the Pet Hospital, shows that 31 percent of cats and 58 percent of dogs visit two or more times a year. (See Figure 1 for more.) The national study of pet owners, which was released at Banfield's 2005 Pet Care Industry Summit, reports the average number of visits over a 12-month period at 1.5 for cats and 2.5 for dogs.
Clients bring their pets in for vaccinations, and flea and tick control and prevention products, for example, says Steve Hoefer, part of the National Pet Wellness Month (NPWM) team. Given that clients are already visiting their veterinarians more than once a year, Hoefer points out that practitioners have more than one opportunity to educate them about the importance of all wellness care. And a message about twice-yearly exams is timely, he says. "Clients are already bringing their pets in twice or more a year so it certainly makes sense for a practice to offer twice-a-year exams and educate their clients about the health benefits of such exams."
The potential for biannual exams is hardly tapped. The NPWM reports 14,000 veterinary clinics now participate in its campaign, up from 10,000 since its launch in October 2004. Yet the 2005 Well-Managed Practice Study, published by Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates and Veterinary Economics, shows that only 7 percent of Well-Managed Practices—a group identified for its top-notch business practices—report that more than 50 percent of their patients come in for six-month exams.
Another alarming fact that shows up in the numbers: Cats aren't visiting as often as dogs. Consider that The Feline Study reports 36 percent of cats with zero visits in the past 12 months, compared to 10 percent of dogs. This gap in care for cats spurred the AVMA and Fort Dodge Animal Health to launch the "Is Your Cat Healthy?" campaign as part of the NPWM. (Visit www.npwm.com for more.)
Sending a clear, consistent message
Such campaigns attack what many see as the primary disease agent of the lack of basic care—a lack of client education and a consistent message. For example, the 2005 Brakke Companion Animal Dental Study reported that 10 percent of revenues in companion animal practices come from dental products and services. Yet fewer than 20 percent of pets have had a dental cleaning—a statistic that points to a lack of client knowledge and acceptance. To raise awareness, the AVMA, the American Veterinary Dental Society, and Hill's Pet Nutrition launched the Pets Need Dental Care, Too campaign and declared February National Pet Dental Health Month.
The next step: recommending care. A pet owner study conducted by Nestlé Purina shows that owners tend to brush and opt for professional cleaning only when a veterinarian recommends it. Specifically, 30 percent of pet owners responding to the study schedule professional cleanings. And four out of five owners in this group do so with a veterinary recommendation. The bottom line: Your clients are more likely to accept and follow through with care when you recommend it.